By understanding how the brain works, singers can train it to help unlock their full potential. David Harris and Laurel Irene from VoiceScienceWorks explain how to get the best out of this most complex organ.
The human brain is a wondrous thing. It processes tens of trillions of actions per second while the conscious mind can focus on one thing at a time. Due to the brain’s complexity, our attempts to change our actions or behaviours often prove futile. But when we access the whole brain, amazing things start to happen.
Let’s start with everybody’s favourite part of the brain, our inner judgement voice. Everyone has a monkey mind that chatters at them all day, telling them how they should feel about things ranging from directions, to dinner, to guilt over not washing the dishes. The judgement voice stems from the left front part of the brain and tends to have undue command over our ability to access other parts of the brain. We rely on it for the maps that it creates to navigate the world. These maps make us feel safe, and as if we know the “rules” of life. But they often limit the amount that we allow the rest of the brain to work. For voice training, the judgment mind can keep us from appreciating the full range of our voice by limiting what our brain can perceive. This can contribute to frustration and unemotional performances. What’s a singer to do? Activities that distract or occupy this part of the mind can help it integrate as part of the whole. Try something physical from jumping jacks to walking around the room or yoga poses, something imaginative like closing your eyes and picturing your sound, or something emotional such as focusing on a core, motivating emotion.
Yes you can change
Just as we know that the judgment voice comes from the left front part of the brain, we can map bodily functions to specific parts of the brain. We know that certain core areas are devoted to certain tasks (e.g. wiggling your finger), and that these areas grow or shrink depending on what we ask of them (e.g. lots of finger pull-ups). This means. . .wait for it. . .that the brain can, and continually does, change. The human body was built for change. Yet, we so often believe that physical actions will happen the same way every time, and if they don’t, we’ve failed (that’s your judgement mind talking).
It helps to consider neurons when understanding these ongoing changes. Neurons are the cells that carry messages around the brain and to the body. The more they receive signals, the stronger their signals become. If you want to learn to hit a bullseye on a target, then keep throwing that dart – over and over again. The more that neurons related to your eyes, wrist and fingers fire together, the more your capacity to hit the target increases. As that happens, your brain changes, building more of a neuron network related to dart throwing.
It takes a little time – and patience
These changes can happen quickly, but they take time to solidify. A singer who has a breakthrough discovery with their voice, therefore, needs to repeat that discovery many more times before they can rely on it to occur without consciously focusing on it. Knowing this frees the vocalist and coach from trying to “think” too much about their vocal goals while executing them (judgement mind. . .) and replaces that intense conscious focus with trust that the brain needs time to groove new tasks. There are times when the conscious mind is essential for creating the target and maintaining focus on that target. But body and mind integration occurs when we’re able to notice the task happening without trying to control it with the conscious mind. This will only happen with patience and repetition so that neuron chains can strengthen.
The auditory cortex represents another important neurological gold-mine. The French ENT Dr Alfred Tomatis called the ear the first organ of the voice. The “Tomatis Effect”, so called by researchers who follow his work, underscores the core of this conjecture. It has three main points:
1 The voice is able to reproduce only what the ear can hear.
2 If listening is modified, the voice is also immediately and unconsciously modified.
3 When auditory stimulation is maintained over a length of time, phonation undergoes lasting change.
In other words, the ear is critical. Voice analyser software can be a beautiful tool for helping people’s ears discover new sounds, and to create lasting change without having to overthink it.
Appreciating the profound capacity of the brain to create quick, lasting changes beyond our conscious thought lifts pressure from our process, and offers a road map of repetition, audiation and discovering ways to lessen our judgement mind while increasing awareness. The unconscious elements that challenge explanation, such as emotion, sound, freedom and the vast coordination of the vocal mechanism, represent the brain’s true power, and are the basis of essential vocalisation.
For more insight into the brain and how it works, read Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way Of Healing. VoiceScienceWorks teaches classes in using voice analyser software and on exploring the body/mind.
Join VoiceScienceWorks and BAST Training for a one-of-a-kind weekend workshop that brings contemporary research on the voice and translates it into directly applicable information so that you, the vocal teacher and professional, can immediately apply it in your practice.
For singers of all styles, actors, teachers, sound and industry professionals, this workshop brings a fresh approach to the teaching voice, training the ear and the brain, and mastering voice technology as a revolutionary tool in the learning process.
All registrants will receive a 50% discount on VoceVista Pro Voice Analyzer Software. We highly recommend that all participants have a working copy of VoceVista Pro for the session.
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